Airlines for America (A4A), a trade association representing airlines based in the United States (US), has asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to extend the slot waiver through the end of October 2023.
In a letter to the FAA’s Chief Counsel Marc Nichols and the Vice President of System Operations Services Alyce Hood-Fleming, A4A said that while the waiver granted for the period between May 15 and September 15, 2023, was a welcoming one, operating conditions have not improved significantly.
Sharon Pinkerton, the Senior Vice President of Legislative and Regulatory Policy and Patricia Vercelli, the Senior Vice President of General Counsel and Secretary, who signed the letter on behalf of A4A, said that “operational reliability during the past few months has been challenging even with the relief provided”.
Still, it would have been much worse if not for the FAA’s decision to grant the slot waiver in March 2023, which allowed airlines to return 10% of their slots at New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA), approved operating timings at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), and slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) that are used to exclusively fly between DCA and JFK.
A4A’s representatives pointed out that the waiver was granted as a result of post-pandemic Air Traffic Control (ATC) staffing challenges, especially at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility (N90), which was only 54% staffed.
Airlines were asked to reduce their flight schedules while the FAA moved the responsibility for Newark’s airspace to be transferred to the Philadelphia TRACON.
“Since the issuance of the March waiver, the Newark airspace has not been transferred, nor have the staffing levels at N90 meaningfully improved,” the two A4A executives said. As such, to “maintain operational integrity” in the context of the FAA’s staffing issues, the association pleaded with the regulator to extend the slot relief waiver to the end of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) summer season on October 28, 2023.
“Carriers have been hiring aggressively and will continue to make significant investments in human and technological resources to ensure that even more reserve crews exist to improve resiliency when irregular operations occur,” the letter continued, adding that ATC staffing and extreme weather is out of the control of the airlines, meriting “a limited and conditional waiver of slot usage rules until the system can stabilize”.
A4A argued that the extension of the relief “is in the best interest of the flying public because it will minimize disruptions and provide greater predictability for airlines and consumers”.
“Given the need to schedule crew and the imminent expiration date of the Notice, we respectfully request a timely review and favorable consideration of this important issue,” the letter concluded.
A4A member airlines include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and others, while Air Canada is an associate member of the association.